The General Flipped at Dawn was the season premiere episode of Season 3 of the CBS-TV series M*A*S*H, also the 49th overall series episode. Written by Jim Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum, and directed by Larry Gelbart, it first aired on September 10, 1974 and was repeated on Christmas Eve that year.
An inspection by the strict Major General Bartford Hamilton Steele puts the 4077th on edge. The final straw comes when he orders the unit to move the camp closer to the front, to be more economical and show that a MASH unit should be mobile.
Full episode summaryEdit
The 4077th prepares for a visit from Major General Bartford Hamilton Steele (Harry Morgan). Henry gives the medical staff a briefing on the General but is interrupted when a lone wounded soldier arrives via chopper, piloted by Warrant Officer Marty Williams (Theodore Williams). Henry finishes his briefing in the O.R., telling the staff the General expects daily calisthenics at 6:00 am, full uniform, and is going to bunk down at the 4077th for a week, so he wants no funny business. The 2-star General arrives the next day and immediately inspects the troops. Steele has a few choice words for everyone he inspects. Klinger approaches the inspection in full drag and presents himself to the General with a snappy salute. Steele take a quick look at him and growls, “Not now, Marjorie, I’m inspecting the troops!”
Word spreads quickly that the General is a little wacko. When Henry gives him a tour of the camp, the General picks up an old tongue depressor off the ground and insists it can be reused.
Hawkeye, who has yet to meet General Steele, has a date with Nurse Baker (Lynette Mettey) in the supply room. They are in mid-grope when Blake and Steele walk in, but Hawkeye passes himself off as a reporter from UPI. Steele reveals he is mailing his wife a jeep, enjoys dried prunes, and carries 8×10 glossies of himself. Blake yells at Hawkeye for not following his instructions to behave, but Hawkeye states the obvious by telling him the General is loony.
Blake and Steele next visit the Officers’ Club where the General meets Trapper and Marty Williams. Steele asks Marty how far away the front is by air (20 minutes) and how much fuel is consumed (20 gallons an hour). Steele is mortified and wants the camp moved to the front lines to cut down on fuel waste. He wants to put the "mobile" back in "M*A*S*H" and wants to scout new locations for the camp.
Henry, Frank, and General Steele travel by jeep to scout a new location, but end up drawing sniper fire when Henry reluctantly salutes the General after taking an order. As Frank and Henry cower in fear, Steele acts as if nothing is happening and casually drives back to the 4077th through the rifle fire (this scene is usually cut from most syndicated airings).
Hawkeye is sending his patient by chopper to Seoul, but Steele tries to commandeer the chopper to observe the move. Hawkeye defies the orders, tells Marty to fly off, and calls the General nuts. Steele quickly arranges a court-martial trial to bring Hawkeye up on charges of insubordination, disobeying orders, and impersonating a civilian. (“Thought I forgot about you in the storage room, didn’t you?”)
The chopper pilot, Marty Williams, is called as the first witness, but Steele asks the African-American Williams to do “a number” first. Perplexed, Williams doesn't know what to do or say, so Steele tells him, "You've got it in your blood, boy. Just let it out!" The General then gets up and stuns everyone with an impromptu version of “Mississippi Mud.” With the general happily singing and dancing his way across the compound, the trial comes to an abrupt end; the legal officer overseeing the hearing quietly and without comment places his papers in his valise and zips it up. Hawkeye asks Henry if they still have to leave, and Henry responds that only the general does, to which Hawkeye adds, "In a rubber truck!"
Later, in a scene edited out of most syndicated airings, Henry visits the surgeons in the Swamp and reads in Stars & Stripes that Steele has been promoted to 3-star general for meritorious service in Korea and is assigned to the Pentagon, where he will oversee the entire Asian theater. Frank (despite his own expressed doubts about the General's stability) chooses to take this as proof of Steele's sanity. Blake, Pierce, and McIntyre, in rebuttal, sing a revised version of "Mississippi Mud" as they dance a jig out of the Swamp, with Frank joining in by polishing his boots to the rhythm.
Research notes/Fun factsEdit
- M*A*S*H enters its third timeslot: Tuesdays at 8:30 pm.
- This is the first episode written by the team of Jim Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum. They would play an increasingly prominent behind-the-scenes role as writers over this and the next few seasons.
- This is a send-up of the movie Patton; ironically, Harry Morgan had a short cameo in that feature film as a US Senator who was against General George Smith Patton, Jr.
- Tribute to Korean War allies: When Steele is inspecting the MASH personnel, look carefully at the soldier behind Radar. He is wearing a turban, and he could be a medic from the Indian Army. India's contribution to the Korean War was the 60th Parachute Field Ambulance, a mobile field hospital unit that eventually totaled some 627 medical personnel.
- Trapper claims to Radar that Aaron Burr was the man that killed John Wilkes Booth. This was, of course, a joke. John Wilkes Booth was killed by Boston Corbett. Aaron Burr, on the other hand, was the 3rd Vice President of the United States, who killed Alexander Hamilton in the infamous Burr-Hamilton Duel.
- Harry Morgan had been acting so long in serious dramas like Dragnet that he was worried he might have lost his comedic touch. Outtakes from the inspection scene in "The General Flipped at Dawn" display exactly how wrong he was. Of course, he later became a series regular as Col. Sherman T. Potter, Henry Blake's successor as Commanding Officer of the 4077th.
- Another season, another nurse character for Lynette Mettey. She had played Lt. Griffin in several season 1 episodes, then in season 2 she played Lt. Anderson (definitely a different character). In this, her only season 3 appearance, she has a major role in the episode as Nurse Baker -- a name referred to in Hawkeye's dialogue, as well as in the credits. She'd play yet another nurse in season 4.
- The 1970 feature film version of MASH had its network broadcast premiere in the same week as this episode. CBS aired the movie Friday, September 13 from 9 pm-11 pm as part of its CBS Friday Night Movie (piggybacking the series premiere of Planet of the Apes).
- In the rarely-aired "epilogue" scene, where Henry visits the Swamp to tell the doctors about Steele's promotion, the scene ends with Hawkeye, Trapper, and Henry mocking Frank by singing a reprise of "Mississippi Mud" and dancing out of the tent. Of note is the change in lyrics: While the racist Steele sang the original line of "The darkies gather 'round and they all begin to shout," Hawkeye, et al. sang the less offensive version: "They all gather 'round and they all begin to shout" (this is the version they would have heard Bing Crosby and others singing on the radio in the 20s and 30s). Steele's racism had been made evident earlier when he referred to Hannibal as a "darkie."